Browsing "Lincoln’s Patriots"

Our Inhuman Foe

Though Northern General David Birney was born in Alabama, his Kentucky abolitionist father moved the family to Philadelphia where he was educated and indoctrinated. A thoroughly political general who rose through the ranks by self-promotion and connections, his career was dotted with discipline issues and courts martial. He was described as a “pale, Puritanical figure, with a demeanor of unmovable coldness . . .” He ordered the indiscriminate bombardment of women, children and old men in mid-1864 Petersburg, which offered no military targets.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Our Inhuman Foe

“The war against the civilian population of the Cockade City began in earnest on June 16. The 10th Massachusetts Battery took an advanced position near the Hare House Hill, from which, one artilleryman later recalled, the “spires of Petersburg were now in full view, though distant, perhaps, two miles.”

Two days of bitter fighting remained before the Union leaders would admit failure in their attempt to storm Petersburg, but the targeting of noncombatants did not wait that long. “By order of Gen. Birney we gave our pieces ample elevation and fired the first shots known to have been thrown into the city,” cannoneer John D. Billings noted.

“What a night was the last,” Fanny Waddell wrote the next morning. “Our inhuman foe without a single warning opened their guns upon us, shelling a city full of defenseless women, children and old men.” The bombardment that began on June 16 lasted well into the early hours of June 17.

“I lay quietly until nearly one o’clock listening the bursting of the shells when one exploded so near that the light flashed in my face,” Mrs. Waddell recollected. Ah! The bitterness of that night will never pass from our hearts and memories.”

The correspondent for the Savannah Republican reported on June 19 that a “number of shells have exploded in the streets [of Petersburg], but thus far only eleven persons have been hurt, including one old Negro woman killed.”

An officer visiting Petersburg shortly after this report was filed thought that everything seemed “exceedingly depressing. The streets were almost deserted, and the destructive work of the shells was visible on every hand. Here a chimney was knocked off, here a handsome residence was deserted, with great rents in its walls, and the windows shattered by explosion; here stood a church tower mutilated, the church yard filled with new-made graves.”

Large numbers of civilians fled the Petersburg battle zone within days of Grant’s approach. James Albright, a Virginia artilleryman, wrote in his diary on June 20, “The vandals are still throwing shells into the city, and it is very distressing to see the poor women and children leaving. It is hard on all; but to see the poor women with the children on one arm and their little budgets on the other seeking a safe place – is enough to move the hardest heart.”

The civilian exodus was accelerated by rumors that the Yankees planned to celebrate the Fourth of July with “a furious bombardment of the City.” Another Petersburg diarist noted that during one bombardment “pieces of shell [were] rattling like hail about our house.” There were so many burning structures that one Southern artilleryman angrily declared that the “Yankees appear[ed] to be throwing incendiary shells into the city – as some five buildings were on fire at the same time.”

At least one Union battery did use Petersburg to test its homemade incendiary shells. These were concocted by Major Jacob Roemer and thrown into the city in late July, doing “a great deal of damage there.” Another heavy Union bombardment on July 28 started a number of blazes, all noted by Union observers.

To add to the fire hazard, the Union artillery would concentrate its shelling on the burning structures, so that the air around the men battling the flames would be filled with a “perfect storm of shot and shell.”

(The Last Citadel, Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865, Noah Andre Trudeau, Little, Brown and Company, 1991, excerpts pp. 91-92; 95-96)

Stephen Douglas on the Alternatives

Illinois politician Stephen A. Douglas thought the solution to the sectional divide in 1860 was finding compromise with Republicans through amendments to the Constitution. Douglas’s Senate speech in early 1861 listed three eventualities he saw ahead, and knew the last would end the union – as Alexander Hamilton presciently observed many years earlier. Formerly a man of compromise, after Fort Sumter, Douglas implored Lincoln to raise “thrice as many” volunteers, despite his witnessing the subjugation of Americans and the end of the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Stephen Douglas on the Alternatives

“In a speech in the Senate, March 15, 1861, Mr. Douglas had reduced the situation to the following three alternative points:

  1. The Restoration and Preservation of the Union by such Amendments to the Constitution as will insure domestic tranquility, safety and equality of all the States, and thus restore peace, unity and fraternity to the whole country.
  2. A Peaceful Dissolution of the Union by recognizing the Independence of such States as refuse to remain in the Union without such Constitutional Amendments, and the establishment of a liberal system of commercial and social intercourse with them by treaties of commerce and amity.
  3. War, with a view to the subjugation and military occupation of those States which have Seceded or may Secede from the Union.”

As a thorough Union man, he could never have agreed to “A Peaceful Dissolution of the Union.” On the other hand he was equally averse to War, because he held that “War is Disunion. War is final, eternal separation.” Hence all his energies and talents were given to carrying out his first-stated line of policy.”

(The Great Conspiracy, John A. Logan, A.R. Hart & Company, 1886, excerpt, pg. 271)

Striving to Maintain the Union

The departure of Southern States from the fraternal Union came as no surprise to many, and those like Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia forecast disunion to President James Buchanan if he would not end his warfare with Stephen Douglas. Noting the refusal of Republicans to compromise and not wanting to return to Congress to witness the death of the Union, Stephens returned Georgia to await the unfolding events.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Striving to Maintain the Union

“The [Cincinnati] speech was intended as a solemn warning not only to his constituents and people of the South, but the whole country, that in his opinion the peace and prosperity of the country depended upon a strict and inflexible adherence to the principles of the adjustment measures of 1850 upon the subject of slavery, as carried out and expressed in the Democratic Baltimore platform of 1852, with the additional plank inserted in the Cincinnati Convention of 1856.

It was well known then that Mr. Stephens had serious apprehensions that those principles would be departed from in the next Democratic Convention to be held in Charleston the following year. It was also known that he did not finally determine to withdraw from Congress until after a personal interview with Mr. [James] Buchanan, in which he had urged the President to cease his warfare against Mr. [Stephen] Douglas, and the support of the paper known as his organ in Washington in insisting upon the insertion of a new plank in the next Convention, asserting it to be the duty of Congress to pass acts to protect slavery in the Territories, and not to leave that subject, as the Cincinnati platform had done, with the people of the Territories.

Mr. Stephens most urgently urged the President that if he continued to pursue the line of policy he was then following there would be a burst-up at Charleston, and with that burst-up of the Union – temporary or permanent – “as certainly as he would break his neck if he sprang from that window” [of the reception-room at the White house, in which they were conversing] “or as the sun would set that night.”

Mr. Buchanan seemed surprised at this opinion, but was unshaken in his determination to adhere to the policy he was then following. Mr. Stephens, in taking leave, told the President that his object in seeking the interview was to know if his purpose was as stated, and if that was so, his own intention was, not to be allowed to return to the next Congress.

He had spent sixteen years of life in striving to maintain the Union upon the principles of the Constitution; this he thought could be done for many years to come upon the principles set forth in the Cincinnati platform. The Government administered on these principles he thought the best in the world; but if it was departed from, he saw nothing but ruin ahead. He did not wish to be in at the death; but if disunion should come in consequence of this departure, he should go with the people of his own State.

Another fact connected with the retirement of Mr. Stephens from Congress may be noted here. When leaving Washington, with a number of other Southern members, on the beautiful morning of the 5th of March, 1859, he stood at the stern of the boat for some minutes, gazing back at the Capitol, when someone jocularly said, “I suppose you are thinking of coming back to those halls as a Senator.” (It was known that he had announced his intention not to return as a Representative.)

Mr. Stephens replied, with some emotion, “No; I never expect to see Washington again, unless I am brought here as a prisoner of war.” This was literally fulfilled in the latter part of October 1865, when he passed through Washington on his way to his home as a paroled prisoner from Fort Warren.”

(Life of Alexander H. Stephens, R.M. Johnston & W.H. Brown, J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1883, excerpts, pp. 347-348)

 

 

Subjugating Rebellion into Loyalty

Not recognizing the withdrawal of States from the voluntary Union in 1861, English-born Sen. Edward D. Baker of Oregon responds below to former Vice President and then-Senator John Breckenridge of Kentucky. Baker reportedly appeared in the Senate that day in the uniform of a Northern colonel, riding whip and saber in hand, claiming that secession was rebellion and that South Carolina was to be subjugated into loyalty. This, ironically from a man born in England, was what George III attempted some 85 years earlier.  Baker was mortally wounded at Ball’s Bluff in October 1861.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Subjugating Rebellion into Loyalty

“The senator from Kentucky stands up here in a manly way in opposition to what he sees is the overwhelming sentiment of the Senate, and utters reproof, malediction, and prediction combined. Well sir, it is not every prediction that is prophesy.

I confess Mr. President, that I would not have predicted three weeks ago the disasters which have overtaken our arms; and I do not think [if I were to predict now] that six months hence the senator will indulge in the same tone of prediction which is his favorite key now. I would ask him what would you have us do now — a Confederate army within twenty miles of us, advancing, or threatening to advance, to overwhelm your government; to shake the pillars of the Union; to bring it down around your head in ruins if you stay here?

Are we to stop and talk about an uprising sentiment in the north against the war? Is it not the manly part to go on as we have begun, to raise money, and levy armies, to organize them, to prepare to advance; when we do advance, to regulate that advance by all the laws and regulations that civilization and humanity will allow in time of battle? To talk to us about stopping is idle; we will never stop. Will the senator yield to rebellion? Will he shrink from armed insurrection? Will his State justify it? Shall we send a flag of truce?

When we subjugate South Carolina, what shall we do? We shall compel its obedience to the Constitution of the United States; that is all. Why play upon words? We do not mean, we have never said, any more. If it be slavery that men should obey the Constitution their fathers fought for, let it be so.

We propose to subjugate rebellion into loyalty; we propose to subjugate insurrection into peace; we propose to subjugate Confederate anarchy into constitutional Union liberty. When the Confederate armies are scattered; when their leaders are banished from power; when the people return to a late repentant sense of the wrong they have done to a government they never felt but benignancy and blessing — then the Constitution made for us all will be felt by all, like the descending rains from heaven which bless all alike.

Sir, how can we retreat? What will become of constitutional government? What will become of public liberty? What of past glories? What of future hopes? No sir; a thousand times no, sir! We will rally . . . we will rally the people, the loyal people, of the whole country. They will pour forth their treasure, their money, their men, without stint, without measure.”

(Edward D. Baker, Senate speech of August 1, 1861. The World’s Famous Orations, W.J. Bryan, editor, Funk & Wagnall’s, 1906, pp. 3-8)

 

No Compromise for Charles Sumner

The responsibility for the death of nearly one million Americans, considering death by combat, disease and starvation, military and civilian, must be laid at the feet of those like Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Unwilling to compromise for the sake of peace and Union, his incessant insults against Americans in the South reached their climax in his attack upon Senator Andrew P. Butler of South Carolina. Senator Cass of Michigan delivered the official rebuke to Sumner, stating that “such a speech [was] the most un-American and unpatriotic that ever grated on the ears of the members of this high body – I hope never to hear again here or elsewhere.” For that verbal insult upon Senator Butler, Sumner received well-deserved gutta-percha punishment.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

No Compromise for Charles Sumner

“Of all the earnest, high-minded men and women who helped to drive a wedge between the North and the South during the years between the Mexican War and the Civil War, no one was more bent on forcing the issue than the famous senator from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner.

[An advocate of pacifism, in his] first important speech of his life, a patriotic address delivered in Tremont Temple on July 4, 1845, he had astounded his audience, accustomed to a conventional recital of the stirring deeds of the Revolution, by denouncing in scathing terms the misguided patriotism which glorified deeds of [the Mexican] war.

Sumner drove his point home by comparing the cost to the nation of the [USS] Ohio, a ship-of-the-line then lying in Boston Harbor, with the annual expenditure of Harvard College. It was not a tactful speech considering that the officers of the Ohio had been specially invited to grace the occasion, but then Charles Sumner was not a tactful man.

His lack of tact was as notorious as his lack of humor or his unconscious arrogance. Unlike most of the political figures of his generation, he was very much at home in Europe. Sometimes he wearied his friends at home by telling them of all the distinguished people he had met abroad in the course of his travels and yet, beneath the European veneer, there was a moral fervor about Sumner, a “sacred animosity” against evil, to quote his own words, that stamped him unmistakably as a New Englander.

In 1849, as Chairman of the Peace Committee of the United States, he had issued an address recommending that an American delegation attend the Second General Peace Congress to be held in Frankfort. Representatives of the leading nations of Europe were to present plans for the revision of international law and for the establishment of a World Court.

Sumner, who was known as one who believed that war was an outdated method of settling disputes, was chosen as one of the delegates to the Congress, but at the last moment he declined.

[T]here was something ironic in the fact that the champion of arbitration in 1850 stood out resolutely against sending any delegates from Massachusetts to [former President John Tyler’s] Peace Convention held in Washington on the eve of the war [in 1861]. In his frantic search for a compromise, Senator [John J.] Crittenden found no one more stubborn, more determined not to yield an inch, than Senator Sumner. [Sumner] . . . insisted that concessions [to the South] would settle nothing. “Nothing,” said Sumner, “can be settled which is not right. Nothing can be settled which is against freedom. Nothing can be settled which is against divine law.”

(No Compromise!, Arnold Whitridge, Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960, pp. 120-126)

A Slippery Senator from Massachusetts

The colony of Massachusetts was the first to codify slavery in its law in 1641, three years after the first ship brought Africans from the West Indies. The defiant Pequot Indians enslaved by the Puritan settlers were often traded for Africans who made better workers. Massachusetts became preeminent in the transatlantic slave trade, shipping rum and Yankee notions to be used to buy slaves from African tribes. Senator Sumner seemed unaware of his State’s history.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Slippery Senator from Massachusetts

“Extracts from the debate between Senators Charles Sumner and Andrew P. Butler in June, 1854, beginning on page 1.013 of the Appendix to the Congressional Globe, First Session, Thirty-third Congress:

Mr. Sumner: “Sir, slavery never flourished in Massachusetts; nor did it ever prevail there at any time, even in the early Colonial days, to such a degree as to be a distinctive feature of her powerful civilization. And let me add that when this Senator [Butler] presumes to say that American Independence was won by the arms and treasure of slave-holding communities, he speaks either in irony or ignorance.”

Mr. Butler: “When the Declaration of Independence was made, was not Connecticut a slave-holding State?”

Mr. Sumner: “Not in any just sense.”

Mr. Butler: “Sir, you are not the judge of that. Was not New York a slave-holding State?”

Mr. Sumner: “Let the Senator [Seward] from New York answer that.”

Mr. Butler: “Sir, if he answers, he will answer the truth, and perhaps it might not be exactly agreeable to you. Was not New Jersey a slave-holding State? Was not Rhode Island a slave-holding State?

Mr. Seward: “It is due the honorable gentleman from South Carolina that I should answer his question in reference to New York, since it has been referred it to me. At the time of the Revolution, every sixteenth man in the State of New York was a slave.”

Mr. Butler: “Was not New Hampshire a slave-holding State? Was not Pennsylvania a slave-holding State? Was not Delaware a slave-holding State?

Mr. Seward: “I am requested to make my answer a little more accurate, according to the truth. I understand, that at the time of the Revolution, every twelfth man in New York was a slave.”

Mr. Butler: “They can afford no refuge for historical falsehood such as the gentleman [Sumner] has committed in the fallacy of his sectional vision. I have shown that twelve of the original States were slave-holding communities.

Now sir, I prove that the thirteenth, Massachusetts, was a slave-holding State before, and at the commencement of, the Revolution. As to the character of slavery in that State, that may be somewhat a different thing, which can not contradict the fact stated in the newspapers of the day, that Negroes were held, were advertised for sale, with another truth, that many were sent to other slave-holding States in the way of traffic.

When slavery was abolished [in Massachusetts], many that had been slaves and might have been freemen were sold into bondage.”

Mr. Sumner: “By slave-holding States, of course, I mean States which were peculiarly, distinctively, essentially slave-holding, and not States which the holding of slaves seems to have been rather the accident of the hour, and in which all the people, or the greater part of the people, were ready to welcome emancipation.”

Mr. Butler: “Mr. President, I think the remarks of the Senator verify exactly what I said, that when he chooses to be rhetorical, it is upon an assumption of facts, upon his own construction, and by an accumulation of adjectives.”

(The Case of the South Against the North, B.F. Grady, Edwards & Broughton, 1899, 225-226)

Sumner’s Rendezvous With a Gutta-Percha

After South Carolina Congressman Preston S. Brooks administered a lesson to Charles Sumner, senator from the slave-trading State of Massachusetts, Brooks received new canes from all over the South. The canes were accompanied by emphatic suggestions that he promptly deliver additional beatings on Sumner for the insults toward his uncle and distinguished Senator Andrew P. Butler. Sumner feigned injury to attract sympathy from abolitionist newspapers.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sumner’s Rendezvous With a Gutta-Percha

“From the moment he took his seat in the Senate, Sumner’s conscience was always on parade. [And] according to Sumner, the Constitution did not sanction slavery, and since slavery was a monstrous evil it should be eliminated at once.

Freedom was national whereas slavery was only sectional.  In the official view of the South, which incidentally coincided with that of the Garrisonians, the founding fathers had expressly guaranteed slavery along with other forms of personal property.  Far from being a national evil, it was a national benefit, to the Negro as much as to the white man.

Sumner seized upon the controversy over Kansas, whether the territory was to come into the Union as a free or as a slave State, to pronounce what he called “the most thoroughgoing philippic ever uttered in a legislative body.”  It was an elaborate speech and it took five hours to deliver.

For those who expected an accurate presentation of the facts about Kansas it was a disappointment, but Sumner’s conscience was never concerned with facts unless the facts bore on the depravity of slaveholders. Sumner’s conscience directed him to pour more oil on the fire rather than water.

He began by assuming the truth of every charge made against the slave power in Kansas, and ignoring all the evidence on the other side. Major John Sedgewick, who was stationed in Kansas at the time . . . thought that most of the atrocities had been committed by the [Northern] Free Soil party, but any such evidence, even if it had come his way, Sumner would have brushed aside as the ravings of a lunatic.  He had prepared his speech with infinite pains, committed it to memory, practiced it before the glass, and nothing would induce him to alter it.

The crime against Kansas was nothing less than “the rape of virgin territory compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery.” The criminal (slave power) has “an audacity beyond that of Verres, a subtlety beyond that of Machiavelli, a meanness beyond that of Bacon, and an ability beyond that of Hastings.”

The long string of erudite insults reached their climax in an attack upon the much beloved Senator Butler of South Carolina who, said Sumner, “has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows and who, although ugly to others, is always lovely to him; although polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight — I mean the harlot, Slavery.”

That Sumner honestly thought he was serving the cause of freedom by such language is hard to believe. Senator Cass of Michigan, a devoted Union man and not a slaveholder, delivered the official rebuke: “Such a speech — the most un-American and un-patriotic that ever grated on the ears of the members of this high body — I hope never to hear again here or elsewhere.”

While Senators were shaking their heads . . . Sumner was suddenly transfigured into a national hero, a martyr for freedom. The man responsible for this . . . was a Southerner, Congressman Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina, a nephew and a devoted admirer of Senator Butler.

[And] Brooks had made up his mind that the only suitable answer to Sumner was severe corporeal punishment. Accordingly, while Sumner was sitting at his desk after the Senate had adjourned, Brooks strode up to him and . . . struck him over the head with a gutta-percha cane.

How severely Sumner was injured has always been a matter of dispute, but by the time Brooks had finished his chastisement Sumner was lying on the floor unconscious. Southerners accused Sumner of shamming.

The doctor who attended him took four stitches in his scalp and declared him ready to return to duty after a few days of rest. [Sumner] complained of perpetual headache and nervous prostration, but Southerners pointed out that during a trip to Europe to recover his health he indulged in a continuous round of social entertainments that might well have reduced any traveler to a state of exhaustion.”

(No Compromise!, Arnold Whitridge, Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960, pp. 125-127)

Death and Robbery Await Prisoners

Camp Butler near Springfield, Illinois was a death camp for Southern prisoners in 1862 and 1863. With medical supplies almost nonexistent, malnutrition, dysentery, typhus and pneumonia ravaged the camp and in late 1862, over seven hundred Southern prisoners died in a smallpox epidemic.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Death and Robbery Await Prisoners

“At Arkansas Post, January 11, 1863 the whole command to which I was attached was captured, and we were all sent to [the Northern prison] Camp Butler, near Springfield, Illinois, where we were imprisoned for about three months.

The rigors of winter in that latitude, against which our thin Southern clothing afforded us insufficient protection, prostrated nearly all of us with diseases; but in a short time a supply of blankets and woolen clothing came to us from some ladies of Missouri and Arkansas, and improved our condition very much.

Prison life was rather monotonous; but there was occasionally a little stir among us produced by an exhibition of authority by a small fellow called Colonel [William F.] Lynch, who was our master.

On one occasion he had us rush out of the barracks and into line, and while one of his set of  underlings were searching our sleeping places — for “spoons,” perhaps — another set were searching our persons for money. On another occasion a detail of us, including myself, were ordered out by this little tyrant to shovel snow out of his way — not out of ours.

And when we got on the [railroad] cars to leave the place, he sent men through each coach with orders to rob us of everything we had except what we had on our backs and one blanket apiece.”

(The Case of the South Against the North, Benjamin Franklin Grady, Edwards & Broughton, 1899, pp. x-xi)

 

For What are They Waging War?

Jefferson Davis referred to Lincoln’s proclamation of emancipation in early 1863 as affording “our whole people the complete and crowning proof of the true nature of the designs of the party which elevated to power the present occupant of the Presidential chair at Washington and which sought to conceal its purpose . . .” Davis, like others familiar with the United States Constitution, saw that only the individual States could emancipate, not the government created by the States. And waging war upon the States was an act of treason under that same Constitution.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

For What are They Waging War?

January 5, 1863

“Friends and Fellow Citizens . . .

I am happy to be welcomed on my return to the Capital of our Confederacy – the last hope, as I believe, for the perpetuation of that system of government which our forefathers founded – the asylum of the oppressed and the home of true representative liberty.

Anticipating the overthrow of that Government which you had inherited, you assumed the right, as you fathers had done before you, to declare yourselves independent, and nobly have you advocated the assertion which you have made. You have shown yourselves in no respect to be degenerate sons of your fathers.

Men who were bound to you by the compact which their fathers and themselves had entered into the secure to you the rights and principles not only guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence, but rights which Virginia wisely and plainly reserved in her recognition of the government in which she took a part, now come to you with their hands steeped in blood, robbing the widow, destroying houses, seizing the grey-haired father, and incarcerating him in prison because he will not be a traitor to the principles of his fathers and the land that gave him birth.

Every crime which could characterize the course of demons has marked the course of the invader. The Northern portion of Virginia has been ruthlessly desolated – the people not only deprived of the means of subsistence, but their household property destroyed, and every indignity which the base imagination of a merciless foe could suggest inflicted, without regard to age, sex or condition.

In like manner their step has been marked in every portion of the Confederacy they have invaded.

They have murdered prisoners of war; they have destroyed the means of subsistence of families, they have plundered the defenceless, and exerted their most malignant ingenuity to bring to the deepest destitution those who only offence is that their husbands and sons are fighting for their homes and their liberties. Every crime conceivable, from the burning of defenceless towns to the stealing of our silver forks, and spoons, has marked their career.

It is in keeping, however, with the character of the people that seeks dominion over you, claim to be your masters, to try to reduce you to subjection – give up to a brutal soldiery your towns to sack, your homes to pillage and incite servile insurrection.

They have come to disturb our social organizations on the plea that it is military necessity. For what are they waging war? They say to preserve the Union.

Can they preserve the Union by destroying the social existence of a portion of the South? Do they hope to reconstruct the Union by striking at everything which is dear to man? BY showing them so utterly disgraced that if the question was proposed to you whether you would combine with hyenas or Yankees, I trust every Virginian would say, give me the hyenas.”

(Jefferson Davis, the Essential Writings, William J. Cooper, Jr., editor, Modern Library, 2003, excerpts, pp. 285-287)

 

The Republican’s Stubborn Purpose

The following is excerpted from a postwar letter written by Clement C. Clay of Alabama, to review the facts leading to the withdrawal of the Southern States in 1861, and Jefferson Davis’ efforts to forestall secession, seek conciliation with Northern leaders, and preserve the Union. It clearly identifies those wanting to preserve the Union, and lays the responsibility for disunion at the feet of Lincoln’s party.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Republican’s Stubborn Purpose

“Mr. Davis did not take an active part in planning or hastening secession. I think he only regretfully consented to it, as a political necessity for the preservation of popular and State rights’ which were seriously threatened by the triumph of a sectional party who were pledged to make war on them.

No “plan of secession” or “scheme of revolution” was, to my knowledge, discussed – certainly none matured – at the [Democratic] caucus, 5th of January, 1861 . . . I have never heard that the caucus advised the South “to accumulate munitions of war,” or “to organize and equip an army of one hundred thousand men,” or determined “to hold on as long as possible to the Southern seats [in Congress].”

So far from it, a majority of Southern Senators seemed to think there would be no war; that the dominant party in the North desired separation from the South, and would gladly let their “erring sisters go in peace.” I could multiply proofs of such a disposition.

As to holding on to their seats, no Southern legislature advised it, no Southern Senator who favored secession did so but one, and none others wished to do so, I believe.

The “plan of secession,” if any, and the purpose of secession, unquestionably, originated, not in Washington City, or with the Senators or Representatives of the South, but among the people of the several States, many months before it was attempted. They followed no leaders at Washington or elsewhere, but acted for themselves, with an independence and unanimity unprecedented in any movement of such magnitude.

Before the election of Lincoln, all the Southern States, excepting one or two, had pledged themselves to separate from the Union upon the triumph f a sectional party in the Presidential election, by acts or resolutions of their Legislatures, resolves of both Democratic and Whig State Conventions, and of primary assemblies of the people – in every way in which they could commit themselves to any future act.

Their purpose was proclaimed to the world through the press and telegraph, and criticized in Congress, in the Northern Legislatures, in press and pulpit, and on the hustings, during many months before Congress met in December, 1860.

Over and above all these facts, the reports of the United States Senate show that, prior to the 5th of January 1861, Southern Senators united with Northern Democratic Senators in an effort to effect pacification and prevent secession, and that Jefferson Davis was one of a committee appointed by the Senate to consider and report such a measure; that it failed because the Northern Republicans opposed everything that looked to peace; that Senator [Stephen A.] Douglas arraigned them as trying to precipitate secession, referred to Jefferson Davis as one who sought conciliation, and called upon Republican Senators to tell what they would do, if anything, to restore harmony and prevent disunion. They did not even deign a response.

Thus by their sullen silence, they made confession (without avoidance) of their stubborn purpose to hold up no hand raised to maintain the Union . . .”

(The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Volume One, Jefferson Davis, D. Appleton and Company, 1881, excerpts, pp. 206-209)

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